The White Dragon: The Inverse of Characterization

Last chapter, Jaxom and Ruth successfully managed firestone. And a relationship for Jaxom. And Ruth apparently remembers things that happened in the past. Let’s see if all of these things continue, or whether they collapse in a house-of-cards way.

The White Dragon: Chapter V: Content Notes: Genocidal intent, sexism


Chapter 5 starts with an agitated fair of fire lizards saying the dragons are angry when Jaxom and Ruth arrive at the Harper Hall for a lesson with the star equations and charts. The reason they’re angry is because someone has stolen Ramoth’s queen egg, and Benden is ready to raze Southern to the ground to take it back. To make things worse, after stealing the egg, the thieves did a time-skip to temporalities unknown.

Which brings me to a problem that has been plaguing this series since the beginning – problems are only introduced in this series after we see their solutions. After we find out that dragons can time-travel, there’s the issue of Thread falling out of pattern, which can be solved by time-shifting dragons. After we Impress fire-lizards, then we start talking about problems of too many lizards or how to take care of them. We already have Menolly, the exceptional Harper, before she runs into the problems of “Harpers can’t be girls”. After we know that Ruth knows when he is and can collect time data from fire lizard images, we have a problem where dragons have disappeared to an arbitrary time point and someone has to find them. This is the inverse of how most novels work. Or they introduce the solution in the first chapter, the problem in the tenth, and the rediscovery of the solution in the twentieth. So that the reader isn’t just waiting for the narrative to catch up to what they already know.

Benden is very much ready to burn all of the Southern Weyr to ash, as Menolly informs Jaxom that the stealing is because the Southern queens haven’t mated, and even their greens aren’t producing eggs, but everyone is distracted by the sudden reappearance of the queen egg in its proper place, aged about ten days or so. Which calls off the war drums, but leaves a stable time loop for someone (I wonder who) to go through.

And by “calls off the war drums”, I mean “convinces Lessa not to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge“. I’m not sure how much of this exchange is Lessa and how much is Ramoth, really, but earlier in the book, Lessa had apparently assumed the Benden Weyrleader’s hotheaded streak without anyone noticing.

“Whoever took that egg kept it at least ten days or more.” they [Jaxom and Menolly] heard Lessa saying angrily. “This demands action.”

“The egg is back safely,” Robinton said, trying to calm her.

“Are we cowards to ignore such an insult?” she asked the other dragonmen, turning away from Robinton’s calmer words.

“If to be brave,” Robinton’s voice laid scorn on the quality, “means to pit dragon against dragon, I’d rather be a coward.”

Lessa’s white-hot outrage noticeably cooled.

Dragon against dragon. The words echoed through the crowd. The thought turned sickeningly in Jaxom’s mind and he could feel Menolly beside him shutting off the implications of such a contest.

Ah, okay. So it’s still Crossing the Line for dragons to fight each other. From a practical perspective, this makes sense. Dragons fighting each other means that the people who are on the ground, no matter their rank or importance to history or the world, die. If the combined might of several Lord Holders quailed and couldn’t even be in the presence of one dragon, the people who aren’t dragonriders are very invested in dragons not fighting. Terran history says the non-mounted class fares extremely poorly, in terms of the land being laid to waste, the people being pressed into service, their possessions stolen, and so forth, whenever the nobles go to war. So it’s good to know that Robinton, even though he’s fully behind Benden, is still much more fully behind his own survival.


“The egg was somewhen for long enough to be brought to hatching hardness,” Lessa went on, her face set with her anger. “It’s probably been handled by their candidate. It could have been influenced enough so that the fledgling can’t Impress here.”

“No one has proved how much an egg is influenced by pre-Hatching contact,” Robinton was saying in his most persuasive voice. “Or so you’ve had me understand any number of times. Short of dumping their candidate on top of the egg when it hatches, I can’t think their conniving can do them any good or the egg any more harm.”

Someone should ask Jaxom and Ruth about that…and also, was nobody keeping records about the experiment in Dragonflight where the candidates were able to touch and handle the eggs before they hatched? They should at least have an inkling of whether or not candidates handling eggs predisposes dragons to match. (Path will be an outlier, but that’s because Mirrim is.)

Additionally, unless Ramoth has an instinctive knowledge of which eggs are hers, nobody actually knows whether the egg deposited there is the original one that was stolen. Since the egg disappeared to time unknown, this could be several generations descended from the original stolen egg. It could be a green’s egg that looks like a queen egg. Since the way things were has been radically upset at this point, why trust that the returned egg is the same? Because you assume Southern wouldn’t return an egg at all, even though they know that would bring Benden’s wrath? Less assuming, more thinking, Benden.

Lessa’s first solution is to ban fire lizards entirely, since they’re gossips. Cooler heads suggest teaching fire lizards to identify themselves, as dragons are being taught to do, and marking the fire lizards with colors to indicate their origins. Which makes me nervous, because that suggests they haven’t thought about friend-or-foe identification before. Despite having exiled riders. Despite having had campaigns conducted against them by Holders. And it’s the people who have already created a solution with fire lizards who are taking about this problem with dragons. Solutions precede their problems in Pern. Seems like the best way to avoid problems, then, is to not think – if no solution is invented, it’s corresponding problem will never show up.

Lessa still wants fire lizards away from her and Ramoth. Jaxon returns to Ruth and Ruth informs him that the fire lizards are frightened of something big. Not Ramoth, not the prospect of warring dragons, but something else they were remembering. Not enough to give Ruth anything clear, but it makes his head hurt, certainly. Perhaps Ruth and the fire lizards are sensitive to the temporal flux associated with events like these?

The next paragraph indicates I have anticipated the story again in my criticism, as Robinton is cursing himself for believing that the Southern Weyr would respect tradition (tradition!) regarding the sanctity of a Hatching Ground when in a life-or-death situation. He also realizes that even if he was able to come to the right conclusion, he wouldn’t have been able to convince Benden of what was about to happen. Running down a list of likely suspects…

T’kul must have been the motivating force – T’ron had lost all his vigor and initiative after that duel with F’lar. Robinton was reasonably certain the two Weyrwomen, Merika and Mardra, had no part in the plan; they wouldn’t wish to be deposed by a young queen and her rider.

Cocowhat by depizan

That’s a shoddy line of reasoning, especially considering the alternative is the death of the entire Weyr. (Also, I think that’s the first time we’ve seen Merika’s name.) Perhaps in an alternate universe, people lose their ambition when bested in single combat, but from what I’ve seen so far of Pern, stubbornness in the face of anything but impossible odds seems a staple trait.

Robinton still doesn’t know what to do with Lessa, since she is capable of “sustaining the unthinking frenzy” of the morning, with results “as much of a disaster for Pern as the first Threadfall had been.”

Cocowhat by depizan

I thought the whole issue with Lessa jumping back to just before the long Interval was that she was using a tapestry with no supporting imagery or records to do the hop into times unknown. But if Robinton knows there is a First Fall, and also what happened then, the records must be a lot more compete than previously known. It also throws this timekeeping system entirely out the window – if you know when the first point was, them everyone should be referring to this Pass by which iteration it is, not as the “present pass” with an unknown time in the past where any number of Passes could have happened. Dragons may be able to live and think about an eternal present, but humans do not, and especially not humans that keep records of things that show what is going on now has happened before.

When not messing with space-time through offhand remarks, Robinton is clinging to the idea that an egg replaced the one that was stolen, requiring great skill in popping in and out unnoticed, as reason for hope against an all-out dragon war. He assumes someone at Southern foresaw the consequences and returned the egg to forestall it. I’d like to see the orphaned future where the egg wasn’t returned and fire rained from the heavens, destroying all in its path. Mostly because I think it would give The Day of Lavos a run for its money in pure cinematic destructiveness. But also because it would be an object lesson on what happens when everyone is stubbornly inflexible.

Robinton is soon joined by Fandarel, who understands that something must be both done and not done about the incident, Brekke, recovered fully and firmly on the side of fire lizards being harmless and not at fault, because she believes they have no sense of wrong and right, and Brekke’s rapist, who follows the Benden Weyrleaders in opinion on what to do.

Lessa is still ready to fly off on revenge as the assembled war council settles in, but Robinton is having none of it. Just in case we aren’t on the same page, this is “I plotted my revenge against Fax for ten years, enduring all that time as a drudge, with the accompanying abuse” Lessa who wants to go out and fight dragons against each other. The “I can influence people’s minds with my own to get them to do what I want, so long as I’m not obvious about it” Weyrwoman, now calling for the most obvious solution to the problem of theft. The cosmic retcon underway is pretty audacious, I must say.

Robinton tries to pull Lessa off the offensive by pointing out the egg’s return means the failure of Southern to rejuvenate themselves, as now all the northern Weyrs will be on their guard against egg pilfering. (Setting aside the reality of time-traveling dragons, that is, which would actually necessitate warning the past as well as the present against these actions, which would alleviate the need to warn them because the theft doesn’t happen, so the past isn’t warned, etc. Unstable Time Loops are not so great.) He also tries to spin it as a matter of flattery that Ramoth’s egg was targeted, before leaving an argument for the Benden Weyrleader to seize on and run with: the cause for revenge left when the egg returned.

The argument basically proceeds the way Robinton wants it to, with each of Lessa’s potential outs countered by someone else in the room, with Fandarel making Robinton’s capstone point that the theft might have been more to sow discord in the alliance than to actually try and save the Southern dragons. The Benden Weyrleader vows (raising his right hand as surety) to revisit the issue if the dragon from the egg is somehow malformed or otherwise imperfect, but for now, Lessa is overruled, and leaves the room.

The Masterharper downs a cup in one drink and the Benden Weyrleader agrees to the premise of I Need A Freaking Drink.

“We could all use a cup,” F’lar said, gesturing to the others to gather about as Brekke, rising quickly to her feet, began to serve them.

And Brekke, restored to her regular mental state, has returned to her Good Girl self, assuming the role of servitor she had with Kylara at Southern. Nobody finds this out of place, of course, because it’s already been well-established that women are always the servers in dragonrider culture and the Men are the ones who do things. Brekke is also quite well-recovered at this point, considering she is around things that could potentially be triggering, like the Benden Weyrleader. And his brother. Who asks for Robinton and N’ton to join him and Brekke after everyone agrees its a good idea to not let Ramoth see fire lizards.

The fire lizards themselves appear to be having a collective memory of dragons flaming them, some sort of darkness, and then a picture of an egg. It’s sending them into a tizzy, even though none of them know exactly from whom the memory comes. It will affect Ruth later at night, when he and a giant fair of fire lizards are sleeping with him. Robinton gathered intelligence from Piemur that the Southern Weyr had gotten more secretive lately, and the dragons started just popping in and out, possibly signifying training in time travel. When N’ton went to Southern to check for the egg, he found it deserted. But nobody knows what’s is going on.

Jaxom and Menolly eventually get back to the Harper Hall, where the story is told, and eventually, Jaxom gets what he’s supposed to get regarding Wansor’s equations. Since Ruth is the fire lizard favorite, it’s going to be more difficult for him to keep training in secret. Jaxom resolves to use the South, but to warp back at least twelve Turns so as to avoid anyone actually being there, and similarly to avoid fire lizards following.

And that is chapter five – revenge planned, dreams imparted, equations given.


11 thoughts on “The White Dragon: The Inverse of Characterization

  1. Nothing July 23, 2015 at 9:24 am

    Mild quibble here–green dragons mate, but as far as I’ve ever been able to tell, green dragons don’t produce eggs. And it was also retconned that firestone sterilizes them though it might have rendered queens sterile. The greens are just engineered to be sterile. So the egg could only have been a queen’s, though the dragon inside it might not be, if it weren’t the same egg.

    Something we should all be creeped out about is that this isn’t even about the Southern Weyr dying, but about *Southern dragons not getting sex.* Remember, McCaffrey subscribed to the idea that men and male animals had to have sex–that “men have needs,” and not just desire. Effectively, they wanted this baby queen and her rider as sex slaves. Genocidal intent of Benden aside, there’s zero good in what Southern meant to do, either. I think that will be brought up later, but the Southerners don’t even mention eggs as something they wanted–just a chance for their horny dragons to mate. Because male dragons have needs, apparently.

    As for Lessa, I believe she is heavily influenced by Ramoth, because Ramoth is a super-broody queen. However, it should also be noted that for all the talk about the Weyrwoman being the true leader, it’s pretty clear that the men are indeed in charge. A queen dragon can command any other dragon, but as far as actually dealing with people, it’s always the men. And I can’t help but think Lessa’s attitude is more than a little dose of “emotional woman clearly incapable of handling this situation reasonably.” But, I’ve read a lot of McCaffrey and it could just be that I am jaded, since every time she writes an interesting or awesome lady character, that woman will soon be overshadowed by a man who is basically better at All The Things, and that will usually be her love interest.

    Having said that, when I first read Dragonflight, I liked it, but re-reading it and the other novels soon made me realize I absolutely don’t like either Lessa or F’lar. Lessa is presented later as a heroic person, but in truth she began as a conniving, basically selfishly evil person who did not care about others’ suffering so long as revenge could be had. Surprising, then, that someone so lacking in empathy should Impress at all when empathy is meant to be the key factor in Impression–but not so surprising she wants vengeance again now, especially since she gave the Oldtimers renewed purpose when bringing them forward–and those ingrates repaid her with defiance and the theft of her dragon’s most precious egg. What is surprising is her lack of subtlety, but in Dragonflight, it’s suggested that riders could detect and resist her influence, and she might make things worse in trying that.

    Had F’nor not become a rapist, he would be a more likeable character than either Lessa or F’lar–and let us not forget that F’lar is also a rapist (of Lessa and who knows who else). But because of what he did, I also detest F’nor. And we are coming fast to the point where Jaxom also becomes despicable.

    McCaffrey did once say her novels were a product of her time, and she would not apologize for their content. But I have to believe that, because Pern is in many ways particularly bad, she knew very well that Pern was no utopia. She didn’t mean for it to be an ideal world; its primary redeeming factor was having dragons who were supposed to unconditionally love their riders (but this is not 100% true, as I think we might see in this novel). But that does not mean that she didn’t fail to notice just how terrible the actions of some characters were (I.e. Robinton, vs. Lord Meron, or F’lar toward Lessa, or F’nor with Brekke). As a product of the time, the rapes could have been viewed as seduction instead, maybe, but given it’s a recurring theme in her various novels, I suspect it might have been a personal fantasy of hers–or even a reflection of her own less-than-pleasant romantic history. I don’t like the idea of condemning a person for a fantasy they know is not real, or for experiencing something horrible themselves and having to convince themselves it was okay. Even so, I can’t see certain characters as anything but awful, however I try to look at the author in an effort to understand why she wrote what she did.

  2. emmy July 23, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    re: F’Lar I tend to brush this part out of my mind when considering the character, because some other parts of the first book were retconned, and it’s just too horrible to try and imagine his viewpoint otherwise. So I have to occasionally remind myself that that whole thing even happened.

    His little passage about “might as well call it rape” when it comes to Lessa makes it clear that he didn’t even have a self-justifying excuse about how she really wanted it or how it would “help” her, like F’nor claims with Brekke. And it suggests that this sexual contact was ongoing. He was repeatedly forcing himself on a woman who, at that time, showed no interest in him whatsoever and just lay there, for no reason other than that she was ‘his’ Weyrwoman and he felt entitled to her body.

    (I’m ignoring the whole mating flight because that’s central to the Pern fantasy. Doesn’t mean it can’t be picked apart, just that it’s a different issue from straight-up marital rape.)

  3. Nothing July 23, 2015 at 9:02 pm

    Considering this is Lessa we’re talking about, I suspect she was not passive at all, but actively resisted. She very much did not want sex with F’lar at that time. Only after seeing his concern after bringing back the soon-to-be troublesome Oldtimers did she begin to even appear to feel any affection for F’lar at all. I consider that to be a combination of relief for her survival and Stockholm syndrome. To me this speaks of a situation where F’lar did feel entitled to force her because his dragon had mated with hers. Even if he had not done this, he still shakes her when upset (abuse), at first does not allow her participation in meetings that her rank within the Weyr would likely make the results of said meetings directly important to her, and if that isn’t enough, I personally tend to find him rather smug and arrogant. Not to mention his efforts to basically rule the entire planet suggests a tyrannical streak, which is unlikely to be of benefit for people who are neither high ranking nor dragonriders.

    Point being, just because his (and F’nor’s) behavior changes later on does not erase the actions they already did. Same goes for Lessa and her exceptional cruelty to the Ruathan drudges, with whom she ought instead to have been conspiring, or working to make life for them less miserable. Makes you wonder what kind of family raised her, that she could become so cruel to people she lived among for ten whole years and thought those actions appropriate. Was it entitlement? Or is she just naturally cruel? One could argue necessity, but there was zero need to be cruel to the lowest ranking people. They already suffered the most.

    Here’s the thing about drudges though… McCaffrey wanted to play Pern off as a meritocracy, so in her mind, drudges were too lazy and/or stupid and/or unambitious to do anything else. Therefore in her mind it was probably justice for them to be beaten and abused. This ignores the fact that children of drudges grow up not believing they can do better, or that even people who aren’t very intelligent deserve to be treated with basic human dignity. Note that Camo is treated better in general. There’s a reason for that; he is accorded special treatment for spoilers reasons.

    So yeah. I don’t write anyone’s actions off in this series. Even Menolly was cruel to her disabled uncle (or not-really-uncle relative), who never, as far as I can tell, abused her–and who might therefore have been an ally to her had she treated him more kindly. Just because you don’t like to see a character’s flaws does not mean those flaws are absent.

  4. Brenda Appleby July 24, 2015 at 7:15 am

    Are you talking about Menolly shushing Old Uncle at dinner? She was tasked with keeping him quiet, and got in trouble herself when she couldn’t get him to stay quiet.

  5. boutet July 24, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    @brenda appleby: she also forced difficult-to-eat food into his mouth to prevent him talking, and treated him only as a problem to be dealt with, not a person. She didn’t create the situation and it was a crappy one for her too, but she had zero consideration for Old Uncle in her actions. She was completely focused on her own well-being and it’s understandable in the situation she was in (since there was a high potential of harm to come to her based on her actions), but that doesn’t erase what happened to Old Uncle.

  6. Only Some Stardust July 24, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    If the egg was from far enough in the future, maybe it could be a mutant green’s egg. I mean, ‘cmon. The genetics for greens have to be carried by the reproducers, the golds and the bronzes/browns. That means it would be very easy for a mutation to copy from the golds to the greens to make greens fertile. Even honeybee workers occasionally lay eggs, even if they only hatch into drones. It takes constant evolutionary pressure – workers destroying each other’s eggs – to keep honeybee workers from laying eggs all the time. It isn’t the result of an engineered mutation, that’s for sure, otherwise another mutation would destroy the hive system quite readily. This system is not stable. Eventually, greens will become fertile again.

    And then, if greens producing eggs is such a huge problem, they’ll have a huge mess on their hands. Personally, I think it would be a good thing. The species would no longer be in constant dnager of going extinct from a tiny number of breeders at any one time, and greens and blues could have the potential to run off and form their own weyr unhindered by toxic gender politics, as well as much deeper incentive than your average gold rider who probably feels she is winning at patriarchy.

  7. genesistrine July 25, 2015 at 9:27 am

    Re Merika and Mardra: that doesn’t make any sense even in Pernese society! The senior Weyrwoman is the senior Weyrwoman and stays in charge until, presumably, she and/or her dragon dies – they may be arguing precedence between themselves (“I’m 490!” “No you aren’t, you’re not a day over 485 and I Impressed before you anyway!” “Keeeyaaah! How heartless you are!”*) but whoever Southern puts up as a candidate will still be junior.

    And where are they getting this candidate anyway? Has Southern been going on an unmentioned kidnapping-cute-young-women spree? We speculated during DQ about what happened to the young women mentioned as having been taken for Impression and ending up as weyr servants; were they taken to Southern? Are they the potential candidates?

    Re First Fall: Maybe that’s a special sekrit Illuminati calendar, peasants not for the use of. It would be an interesting and subtle bit of social engineering if so – discouraging historical thought and emphasising a view of history as cyclic and otherwise unchanging.

    *classic videogame references FTW!

    @Nothing: I like Lessa’s early arc. The shift from “lone survivor intent on revenge” to “knowing that planetwide danger is coming” to “love of Ramoth” to “risking both of their lives to save the planet” is awesome, and it would be even more awesome if it had an actual love story in there too rather than “oh wow dude who’s been raping me all along just gave me a flamethrower WANNA BANG HIM LIKE A GONG”. Unfortunately, as you say, she then gets sidelined into calm down dear and let the MEN sort this out territory, boo hiss.

    Re drudges, yeah, sure. A lazy and unambitious Lord’s child is going to end up hauling crap and scrubbing floors. Of course they are they are. This is why the girls in the Harper Hall were introducing themselves as “I’m so-and-so’s daughter/granddaughter/niece and TOTALLY NOT A DRUDGE.”

  8. emmy July 25, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    >The senior Weyrwoman is the senior Weyrwoman and stays in charge until, presumably, she and/or her dragon dies

    Jumping ahead to a book we haven’t read yet, there are implications that the senior Weyrwoman loses her ‘ruling’ status as soon as her dragon is too old to mate, and then falls into a sort of Weyrwoman Emeritus status as long as they live. Because female power is all about whether you can still make babies, you know.

    Of course, since dragons were genetically engineered, and since humans tend to bond with dragons when already adult, why did we design them to enter menopause so quickly?

    For the First Fall, I would more assume that since non-oldtimers alive in this time period remember their own shocking first Fall when they didn’t believe Thread was a problem anymore after the interval, they can extrapolate that people who didn’t even know Thread existed probably had a worse shock. As best as I can remember the canon in these early books, there are very fragmentary myths and legends passed along that vaguely suggest humans were not native to Pern, although most people don’t understand them or take them seriously. Robinton, as Masterharper, would definitely know all that fragmentary lore. So even though he definitely does not know exactly what happened during the first threadfall, he may be aware that there was one.

  9. genesistrine July 26, 2015 at 1:35 am

    @emmy: Because female power is all about whether you can still make babies, you know.

    More about whether whether males still want to make babies with you, I suspect. Pernese multispecies patriarchy, yay. :waves very small flag for the look of things; rushes back to designing booster rockets for escape spaceship:

  10. Firedrake July 26, 2015 at 7:38 am

    Dragons can (canonically) get you out of the atmosphere, and then with repeated jumps you can accelerate towards the planet without using fuel then jump to the other side of it and escape. All you need is a draconic life support system and a pilot with a reasonable knowledge of orbital mechanics.

  11. genesistrine July 26, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    Well, and a co-operative dragon….

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